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FEC ruling may liberate DeSantis campaign funds for 2024 presidential run

A deadlocked ruling on whether Florida Rep. Byron Donalds (R) inappropriately used money raised for a state race in his Congressional campaign may pave the way for another rising star in Florida – governor and 2024 hopeful Ron DeSantis

U.S. Congressman Ron DeSantis of Florida speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland
Ron DeSantis de Florida hablando en la Conferencia de Acción Política Conservadora (CPAC) de 2017 en National Harbor, Maryland | Gage Skidmore

July 6, 2022 12:35pm

Updated: July 6, 2022 2:05pm

A deadlocked ruling on whether Florida Rep. Byron Donalds (R) inappropriately used money raised for a state race in his Congressional campaign may pave the way for another rising star in Florida – governor and 2024 hopeful Ron DeSantis.

Election lawyer Brett Kappel said that the Federal Election Commission’s 3-3 split on Donald’s case may have given DeSantis a blueprint on how to put what remains of his massive re-election war chest, which currently has $111 million, toward a potential presidential run.

"Every time the FEC deadlocks on one of these innovative financial structures, it's a big neon sign saying, 'Do this! You can get away with it!'" Kappel told CNN Politics on July 5.

A Republican fundraiser in Florida said the Florida governor is expected to raise about $200 million this cycle and will likely need less than half for his reelection campaign.

This leaves DeSantis with at least $100 million, which could be used as seed money for a super PAC to support a White House run.

In 2019, then-state representative Donalds formed a state-registered political committee called Friends of Byron Donalds, as required by Florida law, and began raising money for a re-election campaign.

In early 2020, Donalds resigned as chairman of that committee and filed to run for the seat of retiring Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.). Friends of Byron Donalds shut down in June 2020 and sent its reserves, about $107,000, to a new super PAC formed around the same time he declared called Trusted Conservatives.

Election watchdog Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint with the FEC after Donalds won the race by just 777 votes, saying the transfer from the state committee he chaired to a super PAC violated rules that prohibit coordination between a super PAC and the candidate.

Donald’s legal team argued he left the state political committee months before and was thus not involved in sending the money to Trusted Conservatives when it closed.

The FEC split 3-3, and the case was closed.

But the decision drew Kappel’s attention because DeSantis has raised $115 million for his governor’s race in a similar arrangement – through a state-registered political committee called Friends of Ron DeSantis.

Saurav Ghosh, director at the Campaign Legal Center who was formerly in the FEC’s Office of the General Counsel, said it would be “really brazen” for DeSantis to build a super PAC with what remained from his state committee but admitted the FEC “may have left open a major loophole for that to happen” with the Donalds deadlock.

DeSantis as publicly dismissed speculation he will run against former President Donald Trump. But a source told CNN Politics that the governor’s team has “already identified” ways to move the money over if he chose to run.